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Karen Kay: Social media connects to our kindness

PUBLISHED: 12:09 15 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:09 15 August 2017

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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It’s not all trolls and outrage, some of us ‘meet’ people who share and care in a new version of ‘community’ Karen finds

There’s been much in the news about the sense of community that has arisen out of tragedy. Even as flames were still burning at London’s Grenfell Tower, in what was surely one of the most preventable tragedies the UK has seen in modern times, there was a surge of community spirit on social media. Those awful pictures on TV galvanised thousands across the country into action, organising collections of clothes, food, toiletries and toys for displaced families. People turned up at community centres to help sort donations. Those with vans distributed essentials to where victims were temporarily staying. Online, money poured in to charities, as community leaders declared they were overwhelmed with physical donations and needed to distribute money to those in need.

After the Manchester terror attack, one of the victims was named as a gregarious young man who had created a Twitter storm when his mother failed to sell any of her creations at a craft fair. After he shared a picture of her knitted toys on social media, Martyn Hett’s mum was inundated with enquiries from far flung corners of the globe and sold all her stock. It’s likely most of her eventual customers had no need for a garter-stitched teddy bear, but simply purchased as an act of kindness.

And, you can’t fail to have noticed the numbers taking to social media over recent years to raise funds to send sick friends abroad for treatment. It’s the kindness and generosity of strangers that often ensures goals are reached. At a time when society is increasingly fragmented, this need to reach out and help people you’ve never met appears to be increasing.

As more of us move away from the place where we’ve spent our childhood, we lose the immediate network of family that our forebears took for granted. In days gone by, we knew the man who ran the corner shop, the butcher, the baker and the milkman. Most knew their postman and the man who fixed their car. The bank manager was a familiar, if formidable, face in the community, and everyone knew their neighbours. Today, as we have groceries delivered and do our banking online, those daily interactions with local folk have dwindled. The friendly smiles, smalltalk, sense of belonging, all contribute to our wellbeing, and the demise of those seemingly innocuous transactions must surely have contributed to the rise in mental health issues.

Instinctively, we find ourselves turning to strangers to build a virtual community, to feel part of some kind of sympathetic, civilised society. Some of us connect via shared interests.

This has given rise to a new phenomenon of virtual kindness. As someone passionate about textiles and craft, I follow inspiring folk on Instagram, perfect for sharing creative work. I’ve struck up conversations in the ether with anonymous folk whose makes I admire, discussing techniques and tips. I’ve ‘liked’ an endless array of creations, from humble patchwork pincushions to magnificent hand-pieced quilts. And the compliment has been returned by strangers scattered across continents.

I left an admiring remark on a pair of socks someone was knitting. A message popped up on my smartphone a few minutes later. “Would you like them? They’re yours if you want them.” There was much to-ing and fro-ing, me offering to pay her for the materials and her time, she declaring that she would simply be delighted to see them go to an appreciative home – we eventually settled upon a donation to a charity of her choosing. The socks landed in a beautifully wrapped package a few days later. A charming handwritten note within was the sort of thing that an ageing aunt might have sent with a similar gift many moons ago. Overwhelmed, I popped a thank you note in the post. My sock-making stranger has since sent another pair, claiming her family all have too many and she enjoys making them to keep herself busy in the evenings. She seems delighted to have such a grateful recipient for her creations, but the wellbeing benefits of doing good deeds should not be underestimated. I’ve been the lucky recipient of many kind acts on social media, often conducted away from the public forum, on private messages. There’s no grand gesture, just the feelgood factor that comes with doing good, in the same way helping a neighbour in need might.

On other occasions, I’ve been the perpetrator of the kind gesture, sending pieces of fabric to a stranger so she can complete a project, and dispatching pieces of haberdashery to someone to help her out. It feels uplifting, on both sides, to enjoy the kindness of strangers.


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